WEST OF EDEN – Flat Earth Society (West of Music WOMCD12)

Flat Earth SocietyIt’s a touch ironic that one of the best bands currently energising traditional British and Celtic folk music with a contemporary lens happens to come from Sweden. Comprising Lars Broman on fiddle, Martin Holmlund on bass, drummer Ola Karlevo, Henning Sernhede on lap steel and electric guitar and fronted by Jenny and Martin Schaub, the former on accordion and the latter playing assorted guitars, piano, cittern and mandolin, they’ve been playing music since 2005 and this is their eighth album (two of them being Celtic Christmas collections), recorded predominantly in Scotland (in anything from churches to distilleries) and featuring contributions from such folk luminaries as Damien O’Kane, John McCusker and Heidi Talbot.

Unlike some of their past albums, this doesn’t have a conceptual basis, other than generally being about partings and new beginnings, opening with the moody, rumbling percussion, acoustic title track, Jarlath Henderson on low whistle and Jenny, her airily pure vocals at times evocative of Anne Briggs, taking lead on a song about a broken romance in which the narrator’s world has been left flat.

Kicking up their folk rock heels, as the title suggests ‘The Dwindling Of The Day’ concerns the passing of time, Jenny singing about holding on to memories of someone who’s no longer around, slowing down slightly for ‘Horsehoofs & Primroses’, O’Kane on tenor guitar, a traditional-flavoured number of the urge to go a roaming when Spring is in the air.

Henderson contributing harmonies, set to puttering percussion, ‘Pretty Please’ is a liltingly lovely song about being weary of domestic squabbles and “rocking our boat on the wildest of seas”, giving way to ‘Kate, Are You Ready Now?’ as, Henderson on Uillean pipes and Karlevo laying down a slow march beat, Martin makes his first lead vocal appearance on a stirring strummed ballad that puts a spin on the jilted at the alter tale, this time it being the bride who doesn’t turn up while the groom tries to convince himself she’s just running late. Jenny returns for the jazzy ‘Porcelain Days’, hints of Pentangle colouring its lyric about navigating your way through a fragile relationship walking on eggshells and hoping the other partner will stick around as the ice starts to crack.

The first of two instrumentals, ‘Isak/Doris’ combines two fiddle tunes, Duncan Chisholm on the first with its military snare beat before McCusker takes over on the sprightlier second half. Then, it’s on to ‘Old Miss Partridge’, O’Kane on banjo and Jenny duetting with Talbot on a jaunty, accordion-led romp about an eccentric old bird suspected of being a witch and being found dead, blasted by lightning near a tree on the hill, her ghost still wandering at night.

It’s back to melancholia with McCusker providing low whistle for as Jenny sings the simply strummed, strings laden lament ‘Come Winter, He’ll Be Gone’, another song about loss and partings with the changing seasons serving to metaphorically chart the course of the relationship on the album’s most poetic lyric, evocative at times of Christina Rosetti.

Putting on his best Irish accent, the fiddle-accompanied, trotting rhythm ‘Vipers & Fireflies’ is Martin’s only other lead vocal, another song about how our worst nature sometimes gets the better of us and we say things in the heat of the moment we later regret, here using weather imagery as a metaphor.

The final song has Jenny accompanied by McCusker on tin whistle for ‘Peacock Blues’, its lively Irish jig-like tune belying a lyric that returns to a theme of arguments with the narrator being in the shadow of a more dominant personality (“I am the ceiling and you are the sky…you light up the room and I’m in the gloom”), the album ending on the other instrumental, ‘Rowbotham’s Map’, arranged for accordion and fiddle, bringing things full circle with the title referring to the Flat Earth Map of the World drawn up by the artist Samuel Rowbotham around 1873. Flat or round, global recognition for West of Eden among folk circles is long overdue.

Mike Davies

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Artists’ website: www.westofeden.com

West Of Eden and friends live at Ben Nevis distillery:

Video Wall 3

As we look back on the summer musicians are looking forward and sending us videos heralding new albums due for release in the coming months. Here is the pick of them and, as it turns out, all are by female artists.

First we have Gitta De Ridder and her new single ‘Even If’ which is taken from her album, Feathers. Both are available now.

Next up is Irish singer-songwriter Maria Kelly with her single, ‘Stitches’.

Katie Melua returns to her Georgian roots with her new album In Winter. ‘Dreams On Fire’ is the first video release.

Anne Elizabeth Laube covers Beyoncé’s song ‘XO’ from her third album, Tree, which is released next month.

Last but far from least comes ‘The Year That I Was Born’ from Heidi Talbot’s new album Here We Go 1, 2, 3 out now.

HEIDI TALBOT – Here We Go 1,2,3 (Navigator Records)

Here We Go 1, 2, 3Heidi Talbot has been musically quiet of late, with her last album Angels Without Wings released in 2013 and only a Christmas single ‘Christmas in September’ in 2015.  However, that does not mean life has been uneventful and from those experiences comes a new album Here We Go 1,2,3 due for release on 23rd September and available to pre-order now.  The title track reflects a sense of things to come; a deep breath before a step into the unknown.

The central theme of the album is time, the way it can both move forward into the unknown and back in a loop to the familiar. Talbot has experienced both the joy of motherhood and the loss of her own mother in recent years and several of the songs have this ambiguous quality of both a mother and daughter being there for somebody else.  ‘Time To Rest’ could be a lullaby for a baby or a song of comfort for somebody at the other end of their life. ‘Mother Land’ also doesn’t specify who the songs is about. “Mother Land, Cradle me, Close me eyes, Lullaby me to sleep, Keep me safe, Lie with me, Stay beside me, Don’t go.

With 8 of the 10 tracks on the album either written or co-written by Talbot this is a very personal collection of songs that make the most of her delicate voice which has just that hint of vulnerability.  ‘Tell Me What You Think Of Me’ is a heartbreaking ode to unrequited love.  “I can’t be the only who loves him from afar, Every thought I have is him and every sunrise starts with him.  Tell me, do you ever think of me?

Despite this the album is not a collection of maudlin songs, instead it shows the comfort music can bring at times of change.  Whilst not upbeat it has a quiet, restorative calm and gives the listener a chance to step back from the here and now and take stock.  It’s a beautifully crafted work that draws the listener in and leaves them comforted that all will be well in the end.

Although the key sound is the voice the carefully selected musicians, including John McCusker, Innnes White and Michael McGoldrick amongst many others, ensure quality in every note.  There will also be a nationwide tour in the autumn to accompanying the release and details are available on the website.

Tony Birch

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 Artist’s website: http://www.heiditalbot.com

There are no videos from the new album yet but here’s a one-off. ‘The Blackest Crow’ as a duet with Kris Drever:

Heidi Talbot announces new album

Heidi Talbot

Traversing oceans and musical styles – from folk, through Americana, to classic pop, and back again, the Co Kildare singer-songwriter Heidi Talbot has so far gained plaudits from the likes of The Guardian and The Sunday Times (with the latter calling her “simply vocal heaven”) and is joined by a host of musicians and co-writers on this fifth album, including husband John McCusker and Louis Abbott (Admiral Fallow).

Here We Go, 1, 2, 3 sees Talbot reflect on birth, death and getting older – from gorgeous country-pop meditation ‘The Year That I Was Born’ (co-written with Louis Abbott), through downtime bluegrass psalm ‘Do You Ever Think Of Me’, to exquisite mortal jig ‘Time To Rest’, written by Adam Holmes.

The album revels in the comforting, and restorative, powers of music: it’s never maudlin or overly dark and the title track is inspired by an old gospel song.

“I loved the idea of it being quite uplifting, of it not being a funeral hymn, even though it’s about death,” Talbot offers.

Trailer video:

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Artist’s website: http://www.heiditalbot.com/

John McCusker – new album

John McCusker

In celebration of his 25th Anniversary as a professional musician, John McCusker will release Hello, Goodbye on April 29th 2016 and tour the UK in April and May. A wonderfully evocative set of compositions, Hello, Goodbye is John’s first solo album in thirteen years, the first on his new record label Under One Sky Records and the first recorded in his state of the art studio, built over the last 2 years in a bothy dating from 1779, which neighbours his Scottish Borders home. Designed by legendary record producer and studio designer Calum Malcolm, the new studio is a winning combination of the traditional and the new, much like John’s music itself!

Hello, Goodbye was composed while John was on a world tour with Mark Knopfler. The core musical group for the album is an all-star cast of handpicked musicians with whom John has been fortunate to work over the past 25 years: James Mackintosh, Drums/Percussion (Shooglenifty, The Blue Nile, James); Ewen Vernal, Bass (Deacon Blue, Capercaille); Ian Carr, Guitar (Eddi Reader, Julie Fowlis, Swap); Michael McGoldrick, Whistle (Mark Knopfler, Capercaille, Sharon Shannon); Andy Cutting, Melodeon  (The Who, June Tabor); Tim O’Brien (Grammy Award Winning US bluegrass star); Phil Cunningham MBE, Accordion (Bonnie Raitt, Nicola Benedetti) and acclaimed Irish singer Heidi Talbot.

Born in Bellshill, near Glasgow, John began playing whistle and fiddle as a child and joined the legendary folk outfit Battlefield Band aged 17. During his 11 years with the band, he also released his first two solo recordings, 1995’s self-titled debut and 2000’s Yella Hoose. His most recent albums include Under One Sky and the reissues of Yella Hoose and Goodnight Ginger re-mastered deluxe.

John has long been renowned for his skill at transcending musical boundaries: striving to keep his music fresh and exciting, never leaving the past behind but always embracing new sonic adventures. As a live and studio guest he has shared stages with Paul Weller, Paolo Nutini, Teenage Fanclub, Graham Coxon and Eddi Reader. Since 2008, he has been a member of Mark Knopfler’s band, playing arenas around the world including a double bill with Bob Dylan at The Hollywood Bowl and 20 nights at the Royal Albert Hall.

An expanding portfolio as a producer features debut albums by Kris Drever and Idlewild’s Roddy Woomble. He’s also manned the controls for top folk chanteuses Eddi Reader, Heidi Talbot, Eliza Carthy and Linda Thompson. Film and TV work includes soundtracks for the movie Heartlands (2002) and 16 Years of Alcohol (2003), Billy Connolly’s World Tour of New Zealand (2004), Jennifer Saunders BBC sitcom Jam and Jerusalem (2008) & Starlings sitcom for Sky TV (2012).

John was awarded the coveted BBC Radio 2 Musician of the Year in 2003 and also The Spirit of Scotland Award for music in 1999 and again in 2009.

The John McCusker Band, featuring some of the finest traditional musicians including Andy Cutting, Adam Holmes, Innes White and Toby Shaer, will embark on an extensive UK tour in April/May:

“One of the UK’s most gifted and versatile musicians in any genre, John McCusker is equally in demand as a multi-instrumentalist, producer and composer.” The Guardian

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‘Muireann’s Jig/Farewell to Whalley Range/Roddy McDonald’s’ – The John McCusker band live:

 

Artist’s website: www.johnmccusker.co.uk

MICHELLE BURKE – Step Into My Parlour (Kilcronat Records KLC002CD)

StepIntoMyParlourIt’s probably a dreadful cliché to describe this album as “beguiling” but that is exactly what it is. The style stems from Michelle’s childhood memories of Sunday singsongs after mass at her grandparents’ house and the songs here are the same eclectic mix that would have been sung then.

James Ross provides the piano accompaniments which we suppose would have been integral to the proceedings and Michelle is joined by a number of star guests including Cathal McConnell, Anna Massie, Brendan Power and Heidi Talbot. Despite the stellar cast the album retains the feeling of the front parlour with everyone on their best behaviour – which our imaginations can contrast with the saloon bar down the street.

The opening track, ‘Eileen O’Grady’, is a song of courting that was once in the repertoire of Josef Locke and it’s followed by a real heartstring-tugging ballad, ‘Dan O’Hara’, written by the remarkable Delia Murphy, or at least recorded by her. This isn’t the place to recount her story but I urge you to look her up on the interweb. The blend of traditional Irish songs like ‘A Kiss In The Morning Early’ and ‘My Boy Billy’ – rarely heard these days – and popular songs like ‘Twilight Time’ from The Platters is topped off by Aunty Peggy’s party-piece, ‘Whooped And Died’, on which Michelle is joined by members of her family, reinforcing the sense of time and place.

You might find Step Into My Parlour a bit Val Doonican and perhaps it is but he too was a product of the same times and places and sometimes nostalgia can be a wonderful thing.

Dai Jeffries

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Artist’s website: www.michelleburkemusic.com

The official promo video: